While the men’s senior team were sweeping all before them at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Spain’s U-17 women’s side were quietly doing the same at the UEFA European Championship in Nyon. And though the Roja girls did not get quite the same amount of press coverage as their better-known compatriots, their achievement in conquering Europe was no less commendable.
Spain’s triumph in Switzerland brought them their second women’s continental title, the first coming when the U-19s were crowned European queens back in 2004. It also brought with it qualification for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010, to be held in the Caribbean from 5 to 25 September.
“We have brought together a great group of people and that’s the basis of the team’s success,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda told FIFA.com. “We are fortunate because the 1993/94 generation is a very talented one.”
Vilda took on the job only a year ago, stepping up from the position of assistant coach not long after the Spanish had slumped to a 7-0 defeat by Germany in the final of the European Championship. His predecessor in the post was none other than his father, Angel Vilda, and the 28-year-old did him proud by taking the side one step further.
“The team responded to the challenge really well and in the semi-final we ran out easier winners than expected against a powerful Netherlands team,” explained Vilda Jr, who has a degree in Physical Education and had to give up on a career in professional football after sustaining a serious knee injury as a youngster.
“The next surprise came when Republic of Ireland beat Germany, who are really strong. The Irish are battlers though, and they’re a compact team. Our finishing wasn’t great in the final and it was one of those days when the ball just didn’t want to go in. In the end it all came down to penalties and the turning point came when our keeper saved the first two kicks. Our takers kept their heads and that was that.”
Unity and hard work
As far as the coach is concerned, there is little doubt as to where the strengths of his side lie. “The sense of togetherness in the squad,” he said. “The captains have played a fundamental role in that, and when things have got tough they’ve come out and stood up for the team. Our No10 Amanda Sampedro is the leader, and that’s not taking anything away from the rest of the players, who give us a really tough job when it comes to naming a line-up.”
With information a little hard to come by on their Group C rivals at Trinidad and Tobago 2010 - namely New Zealand, Japan and Venezuela - the Spain supremo will be working on his side’s strong points when they begin their preparations for the finals in Madrid on 16 August.
“I don’t believe in changing your philosophy and your gameplan,” Vilda stated. “You can make a few changes here and there but you have to stay faithful to your system and the way you work. The opening game is always the toughest one because you’re always nervous on your debut and because you never know that much about your opponents.”
Shying away from predictions as to how his charges will fare in the Caribbean, Vilda is nevertheless keen for Spain to improve on their record in the tournament: “We need to get there and see how the other teams are doing. With these age categories it’s always difficult to get advance information. Spain has only ever taken part in one FIFA women’s competition before and we failed to get beyond the group phase on that occasion. If we can do better than that, it will be an achievement.”
And aside from his side’s goals in Trinidad and Tobago, Vilda is also working towards another major objective: “There’s a cultural barrier that’s preventing the development of women’s football in Spain. We’re heading in the right direction and we are close to taking a big step forward.
"What we need to do more than anything is increase the number of registered players. The team’s success in the European Championship and the chance to go to the World Cup will hopefully have a big impact on that, and encourage girls to take up the game at school.”